Saturday, January 26, 2008

okay, i lied: the coworker

Alright, so I know before I went to bed last night I made a list of things I wanted to post about, including the really delicious, really large chocolate chip cookies I made for Not Husband (henceforth to be referred to as NH) last night. But, a friend of mine has been quietly suffering in his cubicle day after day, and I'm guessing that's more interesting than my opinions on the stellar film, The Orphanage, that I saw last night before making the cookies but after reading Martha Stewart Living.

My friend, who I will call Evan to avoid using the phrase "my friend" over and over again in a way that will inevitably become really creepy, works for a moderately-sized firm that uses their office space with relative innovation. Evan shares a title, and desk/office/airspace with a coworker. The two are actually pretty similar guys, same age, similar education, etc, but they're not exactly friends.

This office situation, which has gone on for several months, is less than ideal, chiefly because Evan is daily offended by the loud noises the coworker makes while snacking. The coworker favors crunchy snacks, annoying in themselves, but his apparent inability to fully close his mouth while chewing anything from pizza to chips makes the problem exponentially worse. Up until fairly recently, this was the same kind of annoyance one might have while living with a roommate, in that while never fun, it wasn't the end of the world either. For obvious reasons, Evan keeps his mouth shut literally and figuratively.

Recently, however, Evan was fielding a call from some higher-ups when the coworker exhibited complete disregard for their shared work space. While Evan struggled to hear some exec or other, the coworker loudly chomped on his snack and even worse, crumpled the bag, producing an irritating noise that Evan felt could be heard by the exec on the phone. Worse, Evan fears that the woman he was speaking to will think it was Evan himself crumpling a snack bag. It was, apparently, that loud.

Evan is a polite and thoughtful conversationalist, the last person you'd expect to see eating with his mouth open or eating while speaking on the phone. I say this with no illusions about a long time friend, he has plenty of other bad "guy" habits (like forgetting to change his sheets). But when he calls me to chat about this problem, I know it's serious. And now he's a little concerned it will hurt his career. As a fairly recent college graduate, he doesn't want to squander whatever professional capital he's already accrued.

In my opinion, this is a really sensitive situation, and I'm not even convinced Evan can do anything about it. When I first heard of the coworker's frustrating snacking habits, I felt Evan should just say something polite, along the lines of "Hey, do you mind not doing that while I'm on the phone?" at the soonest convenience.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how difficult it could be to share a desk daily with a guy you've confronted about his gross eating habits. Evan and his coworker have loads of joint projects (as I mentioned, they share a title), and could be working together for a long time. Even a little awkwardness could seriously inhibit their effectiveness as a team, and in the long run, hurt Evan's professional credibility.

I don't have my Emily Post with me (although I may call my mom and ask her to send it over), because it's way heavy and not something I consult every day. I wonder if it does have something to say about approaching a coworker about his or her continual breaches of etiquette. I'm going to keep thinking about what Evan can do to alleviate the situation, but, what would you do?

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